3. Procurement process

Procurement policy

Recommendations for procurement processes and policies

All public bodies should embed policies and procedures for complying with Section 27 of the Disability Act 2005 within their organisation's procurement policy. This would include, for instance:

  • Stating the organisation's commitment to include accessibility in procurement processes
  • Setting out basic provisions, such as asking suppliers to highlight the accessibility features of their services or goods when tendering
  • Setting out where to seek advice in relation to accessible procurement.

Suggested text for your policy

Your organisation's procurement policy should contain specific text on how you plan to build in accessibility (provision for end-users with disabilities) when you are procuring services and goods, where it is practicable, not prohibitively costly, and would not cause unreasonable delay. When updating your organisation's procurement policy, you can customise the text below as required to suit your organisation's needs:

Section 27 (part 3) of the Disability Act 2005 states that "where a service is provided to a public body, the head of the body shall ensure that the service is accessible to persons with disabilities". This includes services and goods.
[Your organisation's name] policy is to include the relevant accessibility requirements for people with disabilities in all stages of the tender process.
Staff in [your organisation's name] should clearly state accessibility requirements in requests for tenders, contracts, and quotations, where applicable. Staff preparing tenders may need to consult with external advisors and people with disabilities in identifying these requirements. Staff may ask suppliers to highlight the features of their product or service that meet accessibility requirements for people with disabilities. If there are no accessibility requirements relevant to the services or goods being procured, or if staff decide that the accessibility requirements are not practicable or that they would cause undue cost or delay, staff should record that fact in a file note.
Staff should give appropriate consideration and weighting to accessibility requirements during the scoring and evaluation stages of procurement. When suppliers are asked to make presentations, they should be asked to discuss accessibility in those presentations.

Step 1: Assessing the accessibility issues

Include accessibility from the start

Consider accessibility at the start of your procurement process. If you do not consider accessibility until later on in the procurement process, you might find it impossible or expensive to address accessibility issues. Your services or goods might exclude some people, and then you will need to provide an alternative; that is usually expensive.

Maintaining accessibility

It is important to consider accessibility within the whole lifecycle of the service, product, building, or information. Future-proof your service or goods by requesting something that is robust and adaptable enough to still be accessible in the future.

Involve customers and colleagues with disabilities

In the specification, supplier selection, design, and implementation stages of your project, involve the customers and colleagues who will use your services or goods. This can save you money: you might find that some solutions that you had in mind are not actually necessary.

By consulting people with disabilities, you will better understand what they need from your services or goods.That will help you to prioritise the features of your services or goods. As you gain more experience with projects that focus on accessibility for people with disabilities, your understanding of accessibility will improve. You might also learn simpler or more cost-effective ways to ensure accessibility, because the people with disabilities whom you have consulted will usually want simple, practical solutions.

If you have not consulted people with disabilities before, the National Disability Authority's 2002 publication, "'Ask Me' Guidelines for Effective Consultation" will help you. Make sure that you communicate in clear language and that you offer to communicate in many different formats as required, such as Large Print, Irish Sign Language, Braille, verbally, by email, or with an advocate. If you arrange a focus group or a meeting, make sure that you hold the focus group or meeting in a venue that a person with a disability can access and use. Ask attendees to let you know in advance if they have any accessibility requirements. The National Adult Literacy Agency's "Plain English guidelines at a glance" will help you to make sure that your customers understand your written communications. The Citizens Information Board's "Accessible information for all (2009)"  will also help you:

Formal consultation is recommended for large-scale projects.

Procurers and suppliers need a good understanding of accessibility

Suppliers need to develop a good understanding of accessibility in order to deliver the right service or goods. You should develop a good understanding of accessibility requirements and the appropriate processes, to make sure that the services or goods that you get will suit your customers' requirements. In certain cases, you might need to involve an outside expert for some tenders. To consult experts:

  • Carefully list the skills that they will need to have so that they can help you
  • List the products, standards, and guidelines that the expert will have to know about
  • Ask for references from organisations that do similar work to yours.

Consider providing accessibility training, to build the capacity and skills of your staff.

Role of Access Officer

Your Access Officer is responsible for arranging extra help for customers with disabilities who use your information and services. Your Access Officer probably has experience and knowledge about what your customers with disabilities need. Ask your Access Officer to help you assess the accessibility requirements of whatever you are procuring.

Exceptions

Section 27 of the Disability Act 2005 states that the head of each public body has to ensure that services and goods supplied to that public body are accessible, but it also gives 3 exceptions. The head of each public body does not have to ensure that services and goods supplied to that public body are accessible, if:

  • It would not be practicable
  • It would be too expensive or
  • It would cause an unreasonable delay for other people.

In some cases, you might find that there is no suitable service or good available that is fully accessible for people with disabilities. In other cases, you might find that a fully accessible service or good is available, but that it is not practicable, that it is too expensive, or that waiting for it would cause too much of a delay for your customers or colleagues. In those cases:

  • Consult customers or colleagues with disabilities to find out what specific aspects of the service or good are most important to them, and what specific aspects are most likely to be a barrier to them
  • Procure the most accessible service or good that you can, based on that feedback
  • Let the suppliers know your interest in procuring a fully accessible service or good in future
  • Inform your customers and colleagues about the accessibility issues of your service or good, and inform them of your most accessible alternative
  • Consider whether a different solution would allow you to provide the same service, but in an accessible way.

Step 2: Writing your Request for Tender

When you write your Request for Tender, you can:

  • Include appropriate accessibility specifications in your tender documentation and include weighting for accessibility in your tender award criteria
  • Include a requirement for accessibility expertise under the standards for technical and/or professional ability, when specifying criteria
  • State how your supplier should include accessibility in their development process, as well as in their quality assurance
  • Ask your suppliers to describe the accessibility features of their products or services
  • Include your accessibility policy with your tender documentation
  • Ask tenderers to describe the accessibility of any examples of previous work that they provide.

Tender criteria

Two types of criteria exist:

  • Selection criteria
  • Award criteria

Our recommendations for selection criteria and award criteria are informed by the "European Communities (Award of Public Authorities' Contracts) Regulations 2006", specifically guidance in Chapter 2 ("Criteria for qualitative selection") and Chapter 3 ("Awarding public contracts") of part 8 ("How the Award Procedure is to be Conducted").

Using specific criteria

Use specific criteria, such as conformance to a particular set of guidelines or a best practice document, instead of general criteria, such as "accessibility", in your Request for Tender. That will allow suppliers to understand precisely what level of accessibility you want. Make sure that you understand the criteria that you specify, so that you know how to evaluate the tenders fairly and accurately. Also, consider how the suppliers can prove whether they have complied with the set of guidelines or a best practice document that you use.

This document suggests accessibility-related criteria that you can use when procuring common services and goods.This document suggests selection criteria for some services and goods and award criteria for other services and goods, because of the wide range of services and goods that it covers.

You could also use the suggested criteria as minimum requirements on your contract.

Selection criteria

Selection criteria are criteria for selecting-or "pre-qualifying"-tenderers who have the necessary capacity or expertise to provide a service or supply goods. They are also known as "suitability criteria", "eligibility criteria" and "qualification criteria". Some examples are:

  • Experience
  • Qualifications
  • Financial capacity
  • Technical capacity

You can use selection criteria to exclude the tenderers who cannot provide the minimum level of accessibility that you need. For example, "Provide evidence of a plan for getting everybody, including people with disabilities, out of the venue if there is an emergency" would be a better criterion than "The venue should be safe for customers to use".

Award criteria

Award criteria are criteria for evaluating how tenderers will provide the services or goods. They are also known as "evaluation criteria". Some examples are:

  • Price
  • Methodology or process
  • Quality of service.

You can use award criteria to select a candidate that will provide a high level of accessibility, weighted appropriately against other requirements and overall cost.

There are a number of ways to include accessibility criteria:

  • Group all the accessibility requirements together within a separate "Accessibility" criterion
  • Include them as part of a more general "Usability" or "Ease of use" criterion
  • Spread them across criteria such as "Quality and technical merit" or "Expertise and skills of assigned personnel".

Use your own knowledge and expert judgement to decide what the weighting should be, based on the nature of service or good.

Accessibility targets

Where required, you should make accessibility an explicit factor in your specification criteria, to make sure that the services or goods that you procure are accessible.

If accessibility standards or guidelines exist for what you are procuring, specify them in your Request for Tender. For example, if you were procuring ticket machines, you could use "Provide evidence as to how the ticket machines will conform to all of the 'Priority 1' guidelines in the 'Guidelines for Public Access Terminals Accessibility' from the National Disability Authority" as one of your selection criteria.

Accessibility policy

If your organisation has a written accessibility policy, consider including it with your contract notice or documents.

Development process

If you are procuring something that will have to be designed and developed, specify in your Request for Tender that the supplier should include accessibility in its development process. One way to ensure accessibility is to consult users, including people with disabilities, from the start of the design process. Here is some sample text for your Request for Tender:

Development process
You should carry out design and implementation in accordance with an inclusive, user-centred process. Outline the main features of this process, such as how you will:
  • gather and use information about user requirements, including the needs of people with disabilities
  • identify users' needs and take them into account
  • consult users, including people with disabilities or their representatives
  • balance the needs and costs.

Quality assurance

Many services and goods are not accessible to people with disabilities, even in cases where procurers asked for them to be accessible. Sometimes, suppliers intended to deliver an accessible service or good, but did not fully understand the difficulties that people with disabilities would have when trying to use the product. Sometimes, suppliers may have focussed on one particular group of people with disabilities, such as wheelchair users, and not given enough consideration to the broad range of disabilities that people have. Consider asking an independent expert to carry out quality assurance, instead of asking the supplier to do it, to make sure that you get unbiased assessment. Here is some sample text for your Request for Tender:

Quality assurance
Prior to delivery, the [procured item] should be evaluated for usability and accessibility as part of the quality assurance process. Tenders should outline the main evaluation methods to be used, such as:
  • accessibility audit carried out by an accessibility expert. Please state the credentials of the expert who will carry out the audit; and
  • user testing by representative users, including users with disabilities. Please describe the test environment, procedures and user group characteristics.
Tenderers may employ either or both of the above methodologies or propose their own set of methodologies.

You decide whether user testing is necessary for your services or goods.

Accessibility audits

If experts are engaged to carry out an accessibility audit, you will need to be confident about their expertise and experience. The National Disability Authority has relevant information in "Guidelines for Access Auditing of the Built Environment" and "Web accessibility auditing".

User testing

Sometimes "user testing" can help you to identify specific details and features that you can include in your Request for Tender. The idea of a user test is to arrange for some individuals to carry out a typical task, such as using a website, to establish ease of use as well as accessibility issues. The National Disability Authority has relevant information in "User Testing" on the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design website.

Evidence from tenderers

Ask tenderers to provide evidence in their tender proposals to satisfy your criteria. Decide whether to specify what form that evidence should be, or whether to let the tenderers choose whatever form they think is most suitable. For example, if you are hiring a venue for a conference, you could state that tenderers should provide an accessibility audit report as evidence that their venues are accessible. For services and goods where the relevant standards are not well-known, tenderers may submit evidence of compliance with international standards that were previously unknown to you.

Step 3: Evaluating tenders

Assessing candidates and tenders

Consider accessibility when you assess tenders. This will involve assessing:

  • The accessibility-related experience and skills of candidates or tenderers
  • The proposed plans, specifications, and processes

Consider carefully whether your procurement team includes someone who has sufficient expertise to properly assess these aspects. If sufficient expertise is not available in your organisation, you could seek to co-opt someone with relevant experience from another agency or disability representative group. Alternatively, you can consult external accessibility experts if required. Your approach will vary, depending on the size of your project.

Accessibility requirements should have been stated in the Request for Tender as an explicit part of the award criteria. If you are evaluating tenders on the basis of the Most Economically Advantageous Tender (MEAT), the recommended best practice is to score each tender against a matrix of weighted criteria. You could:

  • Include a separate "Accessibility" criterion;
  • Include accessibility as part of a "Usability" criterion;
  • Include accessibility in criteria such as "Quality and technical merit".

Reviewing references

Take the time to review the accessibility of the services, products, buildings, or information that each tender has supplied as examples of their work. Pay particular attention to feedback that has been collected from end-users in a systematic way. Consult experts to help you if necessary.

Reviewing prototypes

Ask experts to review the accessibility of any prototypes that a tenderer provides. Ideally ask some potential customers with disabilities to try to use them too; for example, you could ask them to visit a venue that you might use for a conference, to see if it is accessible.

Step 4: Measuring the success of your process

How to measure the success of your process

After your staff or customers have used your service, product, building, or information, get feedback from as many customers or colleagues as possible. Pay particular attention to the feedback from customers or colleagues with disabilities, and to feedback that mentions accessibility. Allow customers or colleagues to give their feedback in a number of different formats, such as in person, by phone, by email, or by filling in a form.

Monitoring and compliance systems for purchasing

You should periodically review your procurements, by assessing the final service, product, building, or information against the needs of the organisation. If you have concerns regarding the effectiveness of your procedures, try to identify its source by asking these questions:

  • Did you specify the right accessibility guidelines in your Request for Tender (or pre-qualification questionnaire or descriptive document)?
  • Did you evaluate the responses to your Request for Tender accurately?
  • Did you assess the deliverables correctly?
  • If you consulted accessibility experts, was their expertise sufficient?
  • Did you get complaints or compliments from customers?

Document what you learn so that it can help you in future procurement exercises.

Complaints process

Your customers can complain about any failures by your organisation to provide accessible services, under section 39 of the Disability Act 2005. You should have a clearly documented and well-publicised complaints procedure that is accessible and easy to use for customers with disabilities.

Remember that your customers' complaints can be a valuable source of feedback to guide your procurement process.

The role of the Ombudsman

The Disability Act 2005 allows the Ombudsman to investigate complaints about public bodies' compliance with Section 27, and other sections, of the Disability Act 2005.

When publishing your "Request for Tender" on the eTenders procurement website, name the Office of the Ombudsman as the second "Body responsible for appeal procedures" in section VI.4, "Procedures for Appeal", of section VI, "Complementary Information".

Useful References